The Good Doctor Is Bringing the 10 p.m. Broadcast Drama Back to Life and Might Save ABC, Too

The breakout medical drama could finally get the network out of fourth place

The Good Doctor became this season’s top-rated new drama in both total viewers and the 18-49 demo.
ABC/Bob D’Amico

During ABC’s upfront presentation last May, Disney-ABC Television Group advertising sales president Rita Ferro enthusiastically touted all of the network’s current and upcoming shows in her pitch to buyers. But when she arrived at Tavern on the Green in New York for ABC’s upfront after-party, Ferro—who had been put in charge of the entire Disney-ABC portfolio three months earlier—made it clear which program she was truly most excited about: The Good Doctor, the medical drama starring Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy, a fledgling surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, who starts his residency at a San Jose, Calif., hospital.

“At our after-party, the only person I took a picture with was [Highmore]. I said, ‘I want to take a picture with you now before you become too big to want to take a picture with me,’” recalls Ferro. “After watching all of our pilots last year, I knew this was going to be the show.”

It’s a good thing Ferro grabbed that Highmore photo when she had the chance: The Good Doctor became this season’s top-rated new drama in both total viewers and the 18-49 demo, as well as ABC’s most-watched freshman series since Lost debuted in 2004 (it’s averaging 16.9 million total viewers in live-plus-7 ratings). Even better for advertisers, it’s already ABC’s No. 1 series in the C3 commercial ratings for the 18-49 demo (a 2.39 rating; ahead of the network’s other hit medical show, Grey’s Anatomy), and is No. 5 among all entertainment shows on TV. In the C7 metric, the show climbs to a 2.71 rating, No. 4 overall, behind only The Walking Dead, This Is Us and The Big Bang Theory.

Networks have been searching for the next ER since that medical drama ended in 2009 after 15 seasons. Hulu began streaming the hit series for the first time in January—sparking a new wave of ER nostalgia—and with The Good Doctor proving there is still a massive audience appetite for the genre, the timing seems right for NBC to consider a revival. NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt says he has had “a couple of conversations” with ER executive producer John Wells about bringing back the series, “and the timing didn’t seem right. Maybe that will change in the future, but there’s no activity on ER at the moment. But if John Wells wanted to do it, believe me, we’d be there with open arms.”
ER: NBCU Photo Bank

As The Good Doctor has increased ABC’s Monday 10 p.m. audience by 177 percent in total viewers and 162 percent in the 18-49 demo, the show has also boosted ratings for its affiliates’ late local news, not to mention Jimmy Kimmel Live, which has topped Late Show and The Tonight Show in total viewers on six Mondays this season. “Having a successful 10 o’clock hour helps our entire ecosystem in broadcasting,” says Andy Kubitz, evp, programming strategy, programming, planning and scheduling, ABC Entertainment.

The freshman drama’s success, combined with the network’s midseason revival of American Idol and this week’s return of Roseanne, has put ABC within striking distance of tying or surpassing CBS and Fox in the season’s 18-49 broadcast ratings, where the network has been stuck in fourth place since the 2015-16 season. “It’s huge for them,” says Betty Pat McCoy, svp, managing director and director of investment, GSD&M. “They need to have a good anchor to start rebuilding, and this show hopefully will help them do that. This turns you around and makes people start looking at a network again.”

Since ER went off the air in 2009, broadcasters have been desperately searching for the next great medical drama to take its place. But aside from Chicago Med, which has been a solid addition to NBC’s Chicago franchise, most of the attempts lasted just one season, including Mercy, Heartbeat, Three Rivers, A Gifted Man, Pure Genius, The Mob Doctor and Emily Owens, M.D.

“As a development community, we got caught up in trying to figure out how to one-up ER. And it was gimmick- or plot-oriented, and not character- or theme-driven,” says Jason Clodfelter, co-president of Sony Pictures Television, which produces The Good Doctor. “That’s why people have responded to The Good Doctor. It didn’t feel like it was setting out to be something other than just be honest.”

ABC/Bob D’Amico

The series is based on the 2013 South Korean drama with the same name, which was also about a surgeon with autism. Lost and Hawaii Five-O star Daniel Dae Kim, the show’s executive producer, developed it for a U.S. audience in 2014 with CBS Television Studios, where his production company 3AD had a development deal. When CBS passed, Kim took the project to Sony, finding a partner in David Shore, who had independently sparked to the Korean series.

This story first appeared in the March 26, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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